It’s strange to watch the Police’s Synchronicity Concert with the clarity of hindsight. At the time of its videocassette release in 1984, it seemed like a good concert. Seeing it 20 years later on the new DVD release, it’s hard not to look for the cracks beneath the surface. And they are there in abundance. While the Police were successful almost from the start, it took the 1983 Synchronicity album to make them superstars, but by the time it hit shelves, the band was fraught with tension and about to break up. At this Atlanta performance, captured by the directors Godley and Creme in November 1983, the band gives a technically good performance, but doesn’t muster up much energy. If there is a charge in the air at all, it’s thanks to the stadium full of fans. Although the Police were a great band, the crowd’s adoration almost seems to be the result of a series of misunderstandings. Two preteen girls sing along happily to the line “their logic ties me up and rapes me” from “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da”. A couple steals a kiss during the scary stalker song “Every Breath You Take”. The crowd seems ecstatic to see a lackluster show.
There are plenty of opportunities to observe the audience, thanks to the choices made by Godley and Creme, who made a string of intriguing videos in the ‘80s, from Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” to their own “Cry”. While their video work has held up nicely, the same can’t be said of Synchronicity Concert, which is full of distracting and horribly dated video effects. The offstage footage is gratuitous, and even includes a couple of shots of a guy at a mixing board. Maybe the directors felt we needed to see this because the action onstage is not very exciting. The Police only seem to be having fun when they come back for an encore, but even then, it doesn’t appear that drummer Stewart Copeland is talking to anybody else. It doesn’t seem accidental that Sting introduces Copeland after the backing singers. Ouch!
Despite the questionable direction and lack of energy, the musical performance is actually pretty good. Guitarist Andy Summers comes off particularly well, using effects to produce rich and full sound textures. Between Summers and Copeland, the Police produce a surprising amount of sound for a three-piece, and Sting is in good voice except on the challenging opener “Synchronicity I”. A few songs devolve into unnecessary jams, and “King of Pain” practically becomes a sing-along, but otherwise the band is in good form. The main problem with the performance is that the three female backing vocalists are featured too often and too prominently, plus they just don’t sing well together or with Sting. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “no backing singers” audio option on the DVD menu, although there are a few extras in addition to the 75-minute concert, including an unintentionally amusing trailer for the original video release (“a performance staggering even by Police standards—are you are there!”) and short interviews with each band member conducted in 1984 at the last Police show. The highlight of the bonus material is the inclusion of four multi-angle extra tracks (“Synchronicity II”, “Roxanne”, “Invisible Sun”, and “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”) that seem to have higher audio and video quality than the concert itself.
Synchronicity Concert is nowhere near the level of concert filmmaking as something like Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, but for Police fans, it will be a necessary acquisition, especially for the bonus tracks. It’s just unfortunate that there isn’t a full-length concert film of the band in happier and more inspired times.